how questions can change our relationships

Helena Lopez – Unsplash

Hi, friends!

It’s been a while. I have not had the mental space to write clear thoughts for a long time. However, today is the day. I received the fun (and motivating) notification that this blog has had over 100,000 all-time views(!), and I finished a book that I liked a lot and want to share with you. When I share my learning with others, it sticks better with me, so thank you for helping me out by reading this post. The added plus is that I think you will learn things that are also helpful for you.

The book I finished is called “The Coaching Habit,” written by a coaching guru, born in Australia, now living in Canada, named Michael Bungay Stanier (MBS). He writes with humor and wit; the book is easy-to-apply practical and deeply wise.

The book’s premise is “say less – ask more” to tame your “advise monster.” Make it a habit to ask more questions.

Without this habit, we make people overly dependent on us, pick up work others would do, place ourselves “one up” on others, and give advice that isn’t truly helpful. I cringe when I think those things might be my effect at work. Even less do I want that to be true of me at home.

It takes COURAGE to ask a question
rather than offer up advice, provide an answer
or unleash a solution.

~ Brene Brown

Over the years, I’ve read other books on coaching, but this one is less of a “How to…” book and more of a “Why do I…” book. Stanier uses plain English to dig into our mindsets, neuroscience, and resistance to change. He understands the drivers, the triggers, and the heart behind what we do and guides us towards what we want to do instead.

This is not an “instant answer” book. It will not fix our tendency to think too highly of ourselves and our advice, but it can help.

When we ask questions, we value people
and we empower them to find the best solutions to real problems.

Stanier’s seven key questions are:

  • What’s on your mind? (allow the other person to set the agenda)
  • And what else? (often the first problem or solution is not the “real” one or the best one)
  • What’s the real challenge here for you? (help focus)
  • What do you want? (getting to the root of the issue)
  • How can I help? (don’t offer help – let them tell you what they want)
  • If you are saying YES to this, to what are you saying NO? (so very powerful)
  • What was most useful to you? (when they reflect, they remember)

I highly recommend the book, The Coaching Habit (also available in Spanish). Even more than that, I hope you will continue to grow your question-asking skills along with me and fight back the advice monsters that are running amuck in our world today.

Curiosity is powerful.

Now to practice.
What is your takeaway from this post? What was most useful to you?


**More from Michael Bungay Stanier: Box of Crayons and MBS.works websites

why is it so hard to change?

Photo credit: ross-findon-unsplash

Change has been on my mind a lot these days. Our organization is going through a structural change that will rearrange many job roles. I’ve recently learned things that dramatically alter my perception of my past (a post for another time). Family members are continually adjusting relationships and future plans.

Sometimes, change happens to us. Other times we are the ones who desperately want to initiate a new way. Januarys often prompt a flood of resolutions that by February we have discarded as impossible and unsustainable. Why is that?

Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey wrote a book named Immunity to Change. The book highlights a study of doctors who warned heart patients that they would die if they did not change their habits. Only one in seven followed the new health lifestyle successfully. Desire and motivation aren’t enough to produce change, even when it’s a matter of life or death.

What makes it so hard for us to change?

Much of the battle happens below the surface, at the subconscious or feelings level, and we are unaware of how it actively operates in opposition to our hoped-for changes.

We have contradictory beliefs, fears, and commitments that are fighting against the new behaviors and thought processes we want to implement. We have a well-developed immunity to change established, and we need to look below the superficial to conquer it.

Kegan and Lahey offer a process to help us investigate the underlying forces at work:

FIRST STEP
Identify the change you want to make – your visible commitment. Example: I want to listen better.

SECOND STEP
Record the things you do or don’t do instead of your preferred behavior. Examples: I get distracted by my phone. I begin to form my answers in my head.

THIRD STEP
(Now, we get to the good stuff. You have to be honest here, but there is power in this recognition.) In this step, you consider your hidden competing commitments. These can be related to worries or fears. Examples: I don’t want to miss out on anything. I am committed to being “on top of things.” I want to have the answers. I am committed to looking smart, being helpful.

FOURTH STEP
What is the big assumption behind those commitments? Examples: I always have to appear responsible, or I won’t get the promotion. I have to provide great answers, or my friends won’t come to me for advice; they won’t need me.

FIFTH STEP
Plan an experiment for the next week or two that tests the assumptions and see what happens. Examples: Leave the phone face down while talking. Listen intentionally and ask questions instead of giving advice.

EVALUATE THE EXPERIMENT
When I was doing this with a small group, we met to discuss what happened when we tried out our new behaviors and set up more experiments for the next couple of weeks. I often found my fears and assumptions did not have the power I was giving them, and I was encouraged by the results of my new behaviors.

In their book, Kegan and Lahey share a helpful chart of columns to process through our immunity to change. I highly recommend both the book and the experience if you have a chance to participate.

This post is a light review of the process, but the main points I learned are: change is hard. When I want to change, I must consider my under-the-surface immunity to change habits. And, as I work through this process, I find naming the resistance gives me a more honest appreciation of the battle. Finally, as I test out my assumptions and experience success, I discover a stronger motivation to keep developing the new behaviors.

What has been your experience with change? In what ways do you do battle with your immunity to change?

end of year review

Year in Review

Well, 2020 was a crazy year like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. Maybe it is best not to look back and forget about it. On the other hand, I’ve learned that joy and sadness “sit together at the same table.” There had to have been good things that happened last year too. I am sure of that. So, despite the ready-to-be-rid-of-you sentiments I have for 2020, I took time this last weekend to create my “mind-map” version of the year in review. I’ve done this for a few years now, and I enjoy the one-page at-a-glance view of the year that I receive as a result.

I typically review my calendar, my journal, and my photos to create my map. I also like to do a verbal review with my husband; he makes his drawing, and we compare notes.

Look back to learn, give thanks, and celebrate how far you’ve come.

I write in pencil first, separating work from family as I can. You’ll see it can get messy. I don’t always space the months out well – a bit of trauma for a recovering perfectionist, but oh well. I’ve learned – with effort – to allow the process to carry more importance than the appearance. 🙂 Later, I return to darken or highlight the more important and more impactful events or happenings. It helps me to see, in print, the many diverse influences on my life.

This process usually takes me a few hours, and that gives me time to reflect – rejoicing and grieving, observing patterns (Last year, I wrote in my journal A LOT that I felt tired), and sensing gratitude for learning, growth, and progress made through the months.

People review the past year in many different ways.
What have you done to reflect on a past year or look forward to the next?

starting the new year

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

I have so many thoughts swirling around in my mind. I struggled with what to write about today, but I’ve landed on sharing my “word” for the year. It seems my word needs to exist “out loud” to be real and garner the power I want it to have in this next year. (Have you heard that? When you want to significantly increase your chance of following through on a next step or commitment, share it with someone else. The simple act of vocalizing the goal gives you more accountability and drive to achieve it.)

So, here I go… making myself accountable to you – however that may look in our virtually connected world.

My word for 2021 is HOPE.

I want to be a person of hope. I feel like I have lost hope in some areas of my life. I’ve become more cynical and less trusting. Not in such an obvious, out-there-visible kind of way (unless some of you tell me you’ve experienced me differently), but rather in that internal, down-deep-consistently-nagging, shallow-breathing-anxious sort of manner.

When I thought about this more, I discovered that I had lost some of my willingness to trust God with my whole heart. I recognize I am afraid of the disappointment I will experience if I ask for something I deeply desire and then do not receive it. More intense digging revealed that I doubt His sincere concern for my wants and desires. And I’ve connected this to my childhood experiences with my dad. Although he always met our basic needs, and I believe he loved me, I don’t remember feeling that he delighted in giving me something. I don’t remember him ever asking me what I wanted.

So, this next year, I want to face the reality of how those emotions battle for my soul and do the intentional relationship work with God to recover my ability to dream and anticipate and ask. Hope can resurface despite the inevitable – and sometimes many – unmet desires and seemingly-unanswered prayers. I want to re-grow my ability to believe and trust and hope.

Secondly, I want to be a purveyor of hope to others. Our company is going through organizational structure changes, which can shake confidence and security foundations for some. When future direction and role clarity is uncertain, people can feel lost and fearful and without hope. I want to engage with these challenges and struggles and find places where I can listen or help and offer hope. Just as in my situation, I can bring wise words, to-the-point resources, or an elaborately detailed plan, but my most valuable contribution may be to encourage a more in-depth look at the heart to uncover the in-the-shadows hope-resisters that operate there. I am learning that when we unveil those truths, they lose much of their power, and we can re-kindle life-giving hope.

How are you starting your new year? Do you have a “word” or specific focus or desire for this next year?

seeking Jesus in the stuff

Photo credit: Mick-Haupt-Kf7e-AD67vk-unsplash

Who is all this gift buying, cookie making, and light stringing for anyway?

I experience this tension each year. I enjoy the warmth of the white sparkles intertwined with evergreen boughs while breathing in deeply the aromas of cinnamon and citrus, and pine. I shop for individualized gifts that I hope will surprise and delight loved ones. I eat too many sugar-dusted and chocolate-covered cookies. I hang the treasured-memory ornaments on the tree and set out the nativities from countries around the world.

But I ask myself, why am I doing all of this? What is the purpose of these things?

Christmas is about Jesus. Not a birth-record birthday, but a set-apart day to celebrate His birth – when the God of the universe voluntarily took on a limited human form to be with us. Jesus, who grew up in a somewhat ordinary way for those times with family and friends so we could relate to Him. AND He did miracles and demonstrated that He was more powerful than death so that we could believe His promise of eternity in heaven and receive His gift of transformation and hope for our every day living.

I don’t want to miss Jesus in all the decoration and all the crazy of the season.

This year is a quieter holiday for me – no week of family-gathered activities, very little baking, and less décor. Sometimes that feels empty and sad, but at other times, like now, it feels good and right because I have space to seek Jesus.

When I have less to do and fewer people around, I can turn my eyes towards Him. I can rest in His forever presence with me, and I can turn my thoughts to following Him and becoming more like Him.

You may have superhero inflatables in the yard, or a houseful of sugar-coma guests, or a full schedule of carol-singing on repeat, or a just-me-and-my-cat-in-front-of-the-fire style of Christmas planned. No matter what your Christmas is like this year, I pray that – in some way – all of that stuff, or the lack of, might help you seek Jesus.

Christmas is His day, and I’m sure He’d like to share it with you.

What helps you find Jesus in the many season distractions?

jury duty lessons

view from the courthouse

It was a no-win situation. I looked out this window, desperately seeking wisdom and discernment. I had hoped it would turn out differently. Unfortunately, the harm was done, a steep price will be paid, and now I can only pray that God will do a restorative and healing work in the future.

I served as a trial juror last week. It was a good learning experience, but it also took a lot out of me emotionally. I suppose light-hearted circumstances are not the ones that end up in a courtroom, so it is not surprising that the trial content was heavy, ugly, and very sad.

I prayed a lot. I prayed during jury selection as the lawyers asked the elimination-process questions. I had no particular desire to serve or escape serving and answered truthfully. I wanted God to be the one who was guiding the ultimate choice.

I felt sincere compassion for both sides. As we began, the judge clearly explained, and I confidently believed in, the defendant’s innocence and the state prosecution’s full responsibility to prove guilt if there was any.

COVID made the experience more complicated and stressful. We wore provided clear masks required for safety and to show facial expressions, and others wore them to allow for clear identification. We had our temperatures taken and used the hand sanitizer available everywhere. The jurors – and other trial participants – were separated by six feet of distance, and we were sequestered in two different rooms to allow for more generous spacing. Some people were nervous about participating, and some staffing roles were short-handed.

I appreciated the professionalism and respectful actions of those involved – from the guards at the building entrance to the judge himself. All patiently gave clear instructions, and technological, translation, and virus inconveniences never heightened frustrations. The jurors took their work seriously and did not attempt to bend rules or rush critical decisions.

I am grateful for the experience, although I have been especially tired the days since. I am not yet sleeping well as I remember testimonies and evidence, and I feel a heavy burden for the victim and the accused. There is no way to erase the damage done, and the scars will never disappear completely.

I do still cling to hope.

I believe people can heal, and people can grow and change. Forgiveness can be offered and received. New beginnings are possible, and powerful transformation can occur. When the deep sadness and emotional weight wash over me, I pray for each person and envision a better future.

Being part of the trial also made me more aware of the impact of my harm on others. My words and actions – even my thoughts – affect others. It may not be to the extent of this crime, but I can hurt and wound in other ways. I desire to bring encouragement, help, compassion, care, and empowerment to others. I will not live this out perfectly, and I will often need forgiveness and grace. However, as I embrace Jesus’ unconditional love for me, I can better offer it to others.

I am thankful for this season and the extra opportunities for reflection on His character and life example that are possible during this time. I want to live a life that looks more like His and love others more like He did.

What experiences make you want to look more like Jesus?

shopping with purpose

Photo credit: Freestocks on Unsplash

It’s that time of year. And this year is different. The heaviness of the past months left many of us anticipating holiday connections and celebrations more than ever. Christmas trees and twinkle lights began adorning homes in October. And the shopping ads began even earlier.

In our family, shopping and gifts have never been the top priority of the holiday. We have other – my children might say “unusual” – family traditions. We choose experiences over things, and holiday gatherings often find us exploring new places and events together. We fill stockings, but only with practical and useful items, like toothbrushes and highlighters, instead of candy or trinkets.

Traditions have become the treasures.

Our family buys few presents for each other and rarely are they expensive. Books are a favorite, and homemade and thrift and passing along a no-longer-needed item are also warmly welcomed. In recent years, we have bought personality assessments for everyone and enjoyed the deep conversations and greater appreciation for each other that results.

If we do shop for gifts, we try to buy them thoughtfully. We’ve become much more aware of and concerned about commercialization, waste, and exploitation over the years and want to do our part in lessening these practices. And so we ask questions.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM? – We’re learning to buy organic, renewable, and sustainable whenever possible. We look for natural fibers, recycled ingredients, glass, metal, or wood and avoid plastic and synthetic products and packaging as much as we can. We also wrap creatively in cloth, brown or pre-used papers, and twine instead of ribbons.

WHERE IS IT MADE? – We look to see if the producers care about the people who make the product. Do they use fair trade practices – honest wages and safe conditions? We enjoy supporting small and local businesses, ethnically diverse shop owners, and those companies that help others improve their lives.

IS IT GOOD FOR US? – We have been on a journey to avoid toxins where possible, so we look for natural products without perfumes and harmful chemicals. We look for gifts that improve health, care for the environment, and refresh the soul.

It can require a good bit of research to access truthful information about a product’s origin and a manufacture’s practices, and products made safely in smaller quantities by well-treated employees usually cost more. Over time, little by little, we have come to highly value the investment in meaningful purchases.

It is so easy to get caught up by the marketing and the ads and the pressure to have lots of stuff. Especially when we are sad and discouraged, “retail therapy” calls out loudly to our hearts. Sadly, impulse buying never truly satisfies long term, nor does it fill our deepest soul longings. When I shop with purpose, I find I get the double joy of gift receiver gratitude and personal gratefulness for the opportunity to contribute positively to our world.

We are not experts and do none of this perfectly, but we are progressing from first steps to lifestyle. I would love to learn more from you. In what ways do you shop with purpose?

tomatoes and timing

COVID made me a gardener. Well, not really, but since we were grounded from travel and spending more time at home, I have tried growing a few herbs and tomatoes on my back patio. In May, as part of my Mother’s Day gift, my family bought me some herbs for the planter box we are storing for my daughter.

All the herbs died. And the flowers.

So, we bought more.

And, those died too.

Bugs. Mold. Wilt. White fuzzy stuff under the leaves and on the stems.

Yuck and discouragement and frustration as I pulled out the dead plants over and over again. Even the between-the-herbs marigold plants died. I thought they grew anywhere.

I googled, and I sprayed natural remedies, and the herbs continued to die. The tomato plants survived, but they grew leaves and no fruit.

Social media posts showed me others celebrating huge baskets of fresh harvest.

I was ready to quit but decided to try one last time, asking the plant nursery expert for help. I took my dead plants back to the store. The kind lady looked at me sympathetically and my stack of plant ID tabs from all my dead plants and said, “Don’t buy any more plants right now. Wait a few weeks until it is cooler.”

So simple. Orlando’s sizzling summers are too hot for most herbs and tomatoes too. The Midwest growing season is not the same as in Florida. Waiting a few weeks changed EVERYTHING. My herbs are flourishing, and the tomato plants are bursting with soon-to-be-fruit yellow blossoms, and I have my first fledging sweet peppers growing on healthy plants!

TIMING made a huge difference.

I can’t help wondering how often timing affects other things I have attempted to do. When have I longed for something before its best season? How have I compared my efforts with others and anticipated the same results they had when they had them? How have I tried to “fix” something with a personal remedy that couldn’t overcome natural circumstances? When have I been impatient with a lack of growth and fruit in people’s lives? When have I been tempted to give up right before the situation was about to change and get better?

My little patio garden has been good for my soul during these past months – challenges, joys, lessons learned, even getting to enjoy fresh flavor additions to our meals. I’m glad I didn’t give up on those struggling plants.

In much the same way, I’m grateful God doesn’t give up on me. His guidance can prevent me from comparing my efforts with others, pushing too hard at the wrong time, or giving up too soon. I only need to ask.

Do you garden? What have you learned from your experience?

milestone birthday reflection

photo credit: Sofiya Levchenko on Unsplash

I celebrated my 60th a few weeks ago. I don’t feel a lot older, but I took full advantage and enjoyed the special festivities. My family all came together for a few days of getting away for island and everglades bike rides, beach relaxation, and dolphin-filled sunsets. Our time together has given me hundreds of photos and treasured memories.

I was also gifted a video collage summarizing encouraging, funny, and love-filled greetings sent by family and friends from all over the world and all my decades of life. I wept as I listened to the kind words and remembered the special moments when my life intersected with all those special people. I will re-watch that video many times.

The video prompted me to think about the years gone by and then to reflect on the last decade.

I’ve heard it said that we (way) overestimate what we can accomplish in a day
but (way) underestimate what we can accomplish in a year.

I think that phrase must be only more true when thinking about a decade. This year has been crazy, but it will likely not have the same intensity of impact when considered as part of the entire next decade.

I decided to take some time and reflect on the last decade. I looked through my calendar and photos, and wow, much has happened in my previous ten years. I made lists in my journal and drew out the more impact-filled events on a timeline to see a visual layout.

A sampling:

  • Completed MA in Global Leadership
  • Moved back to the US after almost 20 years living in Mexico
  • Grieved final goodbyes to all of our parents
  • Downsized and bought our “empty nester’s” townhome
  • Traveled to Canada, Chad, China, Israel, Kenya, Nigeria, Turkey, UK, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe
  • Ran 1/2 marathon
  • Gained and lost a son-in-law (divorce)
  • Wrote and spoke on Unhurried Living
  • Children graduated from college – moved closer and farther away
  • Began to live with less toxins and more sustainability
  • Purchased first smartphone, Vaio & Surface computers, Apple watch
  • Started a blog 🙂

There are lots of changes in that list – fun times, travel, accomplishments. Lots of pain, weariness, grieving. Somewhere in those ten years, I watched the movie “Inside Out” and learned the profound truth that joy and sadness sit at the same table. I am learning to be ok living in that reality.

Some of the experiences were mine; some were primarily others’ stories that affected mine. We don’t live in an isolated bubble. When we love and care deeply for others, their journeys weave interdependently into ours.

I have learned much in these years. I have new passions, new concerns, new ways of doing things. I am healthier and more involved in the well-being of the world around me.

I am not the same person I was ten years ago – not even close. My eyes are open to things I never wanted to know. My heart is tender to people I never considered before. I am broken in ways I never expected and also more resilient than I could have hoped or imagined. I am grateful for those changes, but I have paid a steep price for that growth.

I am more aware of my fragileness and the short time I have left on this earth. I am more intentional about how I spend my time and how I treat the people God brings across my path. I sense a genuine urgency to invest my energy and past experiences well – believing that tomorrow is not guaranteed – I only have today for sure – and I want to treasure that time.

Reflection has been good for my soul. It brings me gratitude and perspective and wisdom. I trust the scars and precious memories will guide my future choices and next steps. I know only too well that not everyone gets to celebrate this milestone, and I am very thankful for the years I’ve had.

What have you done to reflect and process a past year or decade?

doing battle with discouragement

Photo Credit: Michael Payne – Unsplash

Life has felt heavy. COVID. Politics. Racial divisions. Natural disasters.

I feel the weight of these many issues, and somedays I have to battle to find hope.

On a large scale, most of this is out of my control, hence the heaviness of it all. However, there are ways that I can engage and get involved in my small scope of the world. When these pressures add to the “blah” of my day or contribute to my “cloudy” brain, I try to focus less on what I cannot control and more on what I can.

I can control my attitude.

I can choose gratitude over grumpiness. I can practice curiosity over judgment. I can loosen demands to have things go my way and humbly accept what others might desire or need. I can listen to music that uplifts my soul. I can seek Jesus’ heart perspective for other people and circumstances and pray before responding. I can vulnerably ask others to pray for me. I can lean towards trust and hope instead of worry.

I can control my words.

I can talk less and listen intentionally. I can ask more questions and offer less advice. I can work less at convincing others of my viewpoint and willingly accept the complexity of differing opinions. I can take time to reflect and journal. I can speak with love and encouragement instead of argumentativeness. I can pause before I say or write something mean or sarcastic and refrain from adding negativity to a situation. I can complain and criticize less. I can ask for forgiveness when I am wrong and let go of grudges against those who have hurt me.

I can control my actions.

I can turn off social media and TV inputs that are combative, angry, and hate-filled. I can seek out education, new learning, and diverse perspectives instead. I can lift my head, make eye contact, and smile at the person near me. I can willingly go to places that are awkward and uncomfortable for me to understand life journeys that are not like mine. I can give generously to those causes I believe in and to those who have been hard hit. I can look for ways to volunteer and serve those who have needs.

As I was writing this post, I began to recognize how much I can do. I cannot change the whole world dynamic, but I can change my small corner. I cannot do all of this every day. It is a continual battle, and sometimes it feels like the dismay will win. But other days, I get to experience a bit of victory. The discouragement has less power in my life, and I sense that I am contributing a good, healthy, and positive influence where I can.

How do you fight off discouragement? How do you contribute in a healthy way?